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US: Does racism exist in the Illinois cannabis industry?

Illinois is conducting a taxpayer-funded study to find out if racial discrimination exists within the state’s recreational cannabis industry. The Illinois Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer will conduct a Cannabis Disparity and Availability Study to analyze whether or not discrimination exists in the state’s system of awarding licenses to minority-owned cannabis businesses.

Illinois legalized the sale of adult-use recreational cannabis in 2019. As part of the law, the state was required to reserve licenses to “Social Equity” applicants. To be considered a “social equity” applicant, the proposed owner has to a) live in an area “disproportionately impacted” by the War on Drugs, b) have been arrested or convicted of a cannabis-related offense, or c) have a parent, child, or spouse who were arrested or convicted of a cannabis-related offense.

In its first license lottery in 2021, the state awarded none of its 50 reserved licenses to “social equity applicants” after the state found no cannabis businesses were majority Black, Latino, or women-owned, due to a botched scoring system.

Forty-one percent of the licenses were ultimately awarded to Black-owned businesses by the end of last year. Gov. JB Pritzker celebrated the opening of the first “social equity license” in Chicago in December. Ivy Hall Dispensary, at 1720 N. Damen Avenue, says its ownership team is 61% Black.

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